29 July 2006

Latvia — Where the Dead Do Business

Latvia has the fourth highest suicide rate on the planet. In one of my cynical moods, I once suggested that Daugavpils market itself as "Suicide Capital of the World"... the rate in Latgola has been far higher than the rate in the country as a whole, and Daugavpils was suicide central during the transition from Soviet gloom to laissez-faire. The rate has been coming down, though (whether the decline is due to previous proficiency with razors, rope, or Russian gas, spectacular economic growth, or the exodus of potential suicides to the Emerald Isle is perhaps debatable), and Daugavpils has since been rebranding itself as the birthplace of Mark Rothko (a suicide).

If despair is rampant in this depressed region -- employment opportunities are apparently plentiful in the afterlife. Dienas Bizness reports that the number of dead people registered as the owners and executives of Latvian firms has risen by 1789 deceased persons in the last two and a half months. Money laundering and fraud seem to be the most lucrative fields to get into once beyond the grave...

Geneviève Vidal-de Guillebon's fine text, Mark Rothko -- The Artist of the Red Night is available online in French and English. Flickr has an interesting group called ROTHKOesque.

The photograph was taken last autumn in the old Jewish cemetery in Subate.

24 July 2006

Notes on 1905

I've started reworking some scattered marginalia on the 1905 Revolution, which was quite different in the Baltic Provinces (i.e., Estonia and that part of Latvia that was Courland and Southern Livland -- Latgola, where I live, was then part of Vitebsk guberniya); in Russia, the revolution (here called "the Latvian Revolution" by the Baltic Germans) was not nearly as organized as it was in the Baltics. This note, originally posted to soc.culture.baltics, regards Akuraters among others -- I had mentioned him in my last Fire and Night post.

Lately I've been reading about the earliest calls for Latvian autonomy (which took various forms and are often disputed), finally acquiring the riveting Latvju tautas politiskā atmoda (The Political Awakening of the Latvian Nation) by Ernests Arnis (Rīga: Jānis Roze, 1934). The book is a study of a few of the major figures in the (small) movement that included the first proponents of an autonomous Latvia, focusing on Valters, Rolavs, Akuraters, and Apsīts-Apsesdēls (Arnis himself was also an important figure -- his real name was Runcis ["tomcat"] until he had it legally changed in 1932...).

Ninety-nine years ago this spring (the chestnuts were in bloom), Jānis Akuraters (the author of the classic The Summer of a Servant Boy, which he wrote in Finland) saw the flower of the Latvian nation marched from the Central Prison in Rīga to Dvinsk Station. He was among the deportees, arrested twice and finally sent to Pskov (Valters was "exiled to Dvinsk" [Daugavpils!], Rolavs "shot while escaping" under the direction of a Baltic German baron). Between arrests (and torture), Akuraters made a pilgrimage to some of the execution sites of the punitive expeditions. In 1905 he had written the principal song of the revolution, "With Battle Cries Upon Our Lips" -- at white heat, after being among the workers and watching the slaughter at the Iron Bridge on January 13th.

All of these people were Latvian eseri, from the Social Democratic Union that became the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the first group to make explicit demands for Latvian self-determination -- all of them came to recognize that Latvia had no future in Russia whatsoever (as Akuraters put it, the revolution brought only the same graveyards and prisons that Tsarist rule had brought -- particularly interesting are Akuraters' despairing writings about/to his fellow Riflemen).

Escaping from Pskov guberniya, he went to Kuokkala, where one Alberts Traubergs was organizing a terrorist group (the "Northern Battle Division") from the remaining Socialist Revolutionaries. This was in August (i.e., after Lenin was there, as far as I know). There was a lecture last year in which Traubergs was called "the Latvian grand master of terrorism from Cēsis" (there is, or used to be, a fascinating 1905 museum in that town, which I visited in the early 1990s... but I missed this lecture, being in exile in Dvinsk...).


Among the ironies of that era -- Fēlikss Cielēns (a leader of the Social Democrats) claims that the very first demand for full independence was actually the poet Linards Laicens' 1917 brochure, The Latvian State (which included fervent demands for Latgalian rights). Laicens, "who could only be in eternal opposition," soon became a diehard Red in independent Latvia, departing for "the workers' paradise" after various stints in the prison mentioned above. Uldis Ģērmanis describes his sorry fate with style (and error) in Zili stikli, zaļi ledi (Green Glass, Blue Ice, an account of his visit to occupied Latvia to research the Riflemen) -- Laicens was murdered together with thousands of other Latvians in 1937, his ashes scattered in the unclaimed remains section of the Don cemetery in Moscow. Ģērmanis wonders whether he thought of his earlier "bourgeois" convictions (Laicens repudiates them in an essay that can be found in his 1959 collected works -- collected minus his nationalistic writings, of course, though he had been "rehabilitated" in the Thaw).

The photograph of Jānis Akuraters is from Arnold Dreyblatt's terrific hypertext, Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933.

21 July 2006


Originally uploaded by mazen kerbaj.

Mazen Kerbaj of Beirut has a unique blog, Kerblog, featuring drawings and music composed to the accompaniment of that big modern instrument -- the bomb.

15 July 2006

Fire and Night (II -- The Nature of the Dark Knight)

Except for the street in which I live, all of the north-south streets in the eldritch district of Daugavpils where I make my home are named after cities -- Warsaw, Kaunas, Ventspils, Dobele, Jelgava, Hrodna, Tukums, Liepāja, Valka (after which come Labor Street and Beyond-the-City Street, even as "the Chemistry" is now beyond the Beyond...).

Names in what is still in some sense "Eastern Europe" (though the center of Europe is arguably near the village of Purnuškės, geographically, not so very far down the road -- note that it hosts "the world's largest sculpture made out of TV sets, now partially collapsed") are notoriously riddled with a politics as unbreathable as our history; the best known Latvian example would be that of Brīvības iela, Freedom Street, in the capital -- it has borne the names of Lenin, Hitler, and Alexander II.

A dreary street in Rīga has gone from the cosmonauts to Dzhokhar Dudayev, the late Chechen leader, to the fury of many and to the inspiration of National Bolsheviks and others with a fondness for spray paint (the Natsbols have decorated my district with the name of Stalin -- СТАЛИН, the "A" circled for anarchy... don't ask them to reconcile these concepts; a clear conception is not their strong suit).

My street, between Warsaw and Kaunas Streets and formerly Vilnius Street (the various names of which city also unfailingly lead to somebody's apoplexy -- just as the many names of Daugavpils do) was renamed after Andrejs Pumpurs in the interbellum. Pumpurs wrote the epic poem Lāčplēsis. Arthur Cropley, who has translated the work into English, quotes the folklorist and literary critic Jāzeps Rudzītis: “there is no other work in Latvian literature whose story has penetrated mass consciousness as deeply or resounded as richly in literature and art as The Bearslayer.” In politics, too -- when the Bank of Latvia issued a silver coin to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of "the time of the barricades," the image chosen was that of the Bearslayer brought forward in time. 11 November 1919, the night the combined Russian and German forces under Bermondt-Avalov were driven from the outskirts of Rīga (in many ways the day when the Latvian nation-state was really born), is still marked as Bearslayer's Day.

Andrejs Pumpurs lived around the corner from our house, traveling as far afield as China in his work as a quartermaster for the Tsar's army. In addition to Lāčplēsis, he penned poems like "Austrums un Rietrums" ("East and West”):

Austrums laida brīvas tautas
Saules zemi piepildīt,
Tiesības tām bija ļautas
Pašām sevi pārvaldīt.

"The East freed nations to attain the land of the sun. They were granted the right to self-rule.”

Rietrums viņas sagaidīja,
Ķēdes rokā turēdams,
Verdzībā tās ieslodzīja,
Dzimtskārtību ievezdams...

"The West awaited them bearing chains in its hands, locking them into slavery and introducing serfdom..."

Arī mūsu latvju tauta
Cietusi caur Rietrumu --
Kamēr vēl neilgi glābta
Tika tā caur Austrumu.

"Our Latvian nation also suffered due to the West -- until only recently it was rescued by the East."

The historian Arveds Švābe used "Austrums un Rietrums" to illustrate his appraisal of Valdemārs' Slavophilia, pointing out that not only Russian writers and thinkers like Dostoevsky and Tyutchev were carried away by the promise of Russia saving Europe from materialism and atheism -- some of the Young Latvians were as well.

I don't know much about Estonian history, but Stanley Page in The Formation of the Baltic States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959) quotes a letter by Jakobson to Koidula: "From the Russians we have nothing to fear. Whatever we bear from them is but one-tenth the burden of Germans we drag on our backs." The letter is from 1870 -- the same year the above poem by Pumpurs was written -- and the line echoes Valdemārs' dictum, "the Russian kulak cannot be as dangerous as the Germans' nails of flint." Page writes that though some Estonian writers were profoundly influenced by Russian literature (Tamm and Tammsaare), "Estonian disenchantment with Russia grew rapidly in the wake of Russification. If, prior to 1914, the disillusionment did not result in a concerted nationalist striving, it is because, as in Latvia, the class struggle divided the nation."

But regarding Pumpurs' "Austrums un Rietrums" and the transformation of Pumpurs' myth by Rainis, I would direct the Latvian reader to Jānis Rudzītis, whose little "essay with a tendency," "The Ethnicity of the Dark Knight" (in vol. XVII of Rainis' Raksti in the 1965 Ziemeļblāzma edition) ties together various strands of thought on the Russia-facing face. The Dark Knight in Rainis' Uguns un nakts (Fire and Night) derives, of course, from Pumpurs' Lāčplēsis, in which epic that sinister figure is indisputably, obviously German (Lielus pulkus bruņenieku / Alberts bija atvedis /Atkal Rīgā un no jauna / Kaŗu uzsākt rīkojās. / Viņa pulkā tagad radās / Ar kāds tumšais bruņenieks, / Kuŗš daudz gadus vācu zemē / Laupīdams bij dzīvojis...).

Media of a particular complexion have recently taken to pointing to these 19th C Russophiles, with Pravda publishing Yuri Klitsenko's article on "the Image of Crusaders in Latvian culture" ("You, German, son of demon, why have you come to our land?") and Aleksandr Gurin, writing for the website of Latvia's "Russian party," ZaPCHEL, striving to suggest that the Slavophilia of the First Awakening could make a comeback. In "Pirmās latviešu Atmodas varonis uzstājās par krievu skolām" ("The hero of the first Latvian National Awakening supported Russian schools"), Gurin suggests that Russia's economic resurgence will allow it to catch up with the West in a couple of decades, possibly seducing Latvia once again.

Gurin's perspective exhibits a stunning ignorance of the factors that have affected Latvia's shifting faces. His sweeping view of Latvian-Russian relations conveniently omits what Latvians have suffered from the East -- the Dark Knight ceases to be a symbol of the German already in Rainis' Fire and Night. The Russia many of the Young Latvians looked to was to be free (Pumpurs, for instance, participated in secret meetings of the Narodnaya Volya), just as the key to the "Free Latvia in a Free Russia" for which the Riflemen would later fight was freedom and democracy.

Akurāters, an almost clairvoyant writer and revolutionary (1876-1937), reflected on his notes from the 1905 Revolution in 1924 (the passages below were censored during the occupation, probably in 1946; the censors had to evaluate the "level of danger" for works in sealed collections). My rough translation:

"Gallows, castles and prisons. Lo, damned dark Russia!...

"A country where the lungs of the citizens have never breathed freely and openly, where every thought must rot in the brain, where millions and millions of bright, genial thoughts cannot be expressed but only rot, where everything that is beautiful is crushed before its time and ends up in graveyards. Yes, nowhere but in graveyards.

"How strange it is that rereading my notes now, in 1924, I must bear witness to the same. With its last revolution in 1918, Russia has not moved forward by a hair's breadth. Only backwards, it seems."

Jānis Rudzītis, a remarkably astute critic, examines the history of the Dark Knight in performances of Rainis' Fire and Night -- indeed, the Knight traditionally appears in the garb of a German Crusader. He's been seen as symbolizing blind instinct, capitalism, etc. The Baltic Germans detested both Rainis and the play, and during the Nazi occupation Rudzītis had a conversation with a censor who says "we well know what Latvians mean by the Dark Knight."

Rudzītis asks -- "But do we?" The usual portrayal simply does not gel with Rainis' text:

Es nāku no tatāriem,
Visas zemes tie min zirgu pakaviem,

Tā tevi un latvjus es samīšu

Un gaismas pils gaismu dzēsīšu!

"I come from the Tatars, / They trample all lands beneath their horses' feet, / And so shall I trample you and the Latvians / And extinguish the light in the castle of light!"

Rainis, not at all a bigot (he was instrumental in founding Latvia's Belarusian schools and did not even hate the Baltic Germans, though he despised their reactionary politics), does not mean that the Dark Knight is an ethnic Tatar. He means that the figure represents the threat from the East.

So it is that Rainis, who appeared on a commemorative Soviet ruble and was lionized by the Soviets, is providing an antithesis -- ex oriente obscuritas -- for Pumpurs' thesis, ex oriente lux, Rudzītis writes. Pumpurs, he says, had been intoxicated by the narcotic of Slavophilia, whilst Rainis was a creature of Western culture who was very well aware of the darkness that prevailed in Russia, having been exiled to Slobodsk from 1899 to 1902.

Rudzītis notes Rainis' 1908 article, published in the Russian press in 1910, "Latyshi," in which Rainis compares the literacy rates in the Baltic Provinces (on average, 76%) to the rates in Russia proper (on average, 30%). Perhaps the cutting off of Lāčplēsis' ear can even be seen as symbolizing the splitting off of Latgola from the Latvian nation by banning the Latin alphabet in 1865, Rudzītis notes.

Rudzītis' view is not just speculation -- it is confirmed by a conversation between Jānis Kārkliņš and Rainis in the 1920s. Asked how "I come from the Tatars" can be reconciled with performances in which the Dark Knight appears in Teutonic garb, Rainis answered that the Latvian nation was then most gravely threatened from the East (the play was written in 1903 and 1904, but revised as late as 1907). To evade censorship, he masked the character as "coming from the Tatars," which the people would easily understand as symbolizing the brutal power in the East and the mercenary mentality.

Thus the Dark Knight is transformed from a symbol of nationality to a symbol of benighted barbarity even before 1905. It is a sign of Rainis' spiritual intelligence and Rudzītis' acumen that the riddle -- what is the ethnicity of the Knight? -- has no answer. Rudzītis writes that Knight's
passport might say:

"Ethnicity -- Unknown.
Profession -- Russian imperialist."

Gospodin Gurin would do well to recall the Lermontov and ask what has changed:

Прощай, немытая Россия,
Страна рабов, страна господ,
И вы, мундиры голубы,
И ты, им преданный народ.

("Forever you, the unwashed Russia! / The land of slaves, the land of lords: / And you, the blue-uniformed ushers, / And people who worship them as gods." [Translation by Yevgeny Bonver])

The photograph of our street -- Andreja Pumpura iela -- was taken last autumn.

10 July 2006

Fire and Night (I)

"America is divided by a discussion about itself. Europe is divided by a discussion about America. In Latvia, no discussion is taking place at all."

-- Vita Matīss, "Vienotības sapnis izsapņots?"

In Diena last year, Vita Matīss considered the relations between America, Europe, and Latvia. Taking Timothy Garton Ash's remarks on the four faces of the UK, she saw Latvia as having seven. Britain has one face turned to the world, one to its navel, one to America, and one to Europe. Headaches are guaranteed -- but Latvia has three additional faces: a fifth face looking back to Russia, a sixth turning in any convenient direction like the cock atop Saint Peter's steeple, and a seventh determinedly buried in the sand.

"The sixth and seventh faces have often been the standard positions of the Latvian Janus, shown to the world, since it hasn't reached even a minimum consensus on which of the faces, one through five, is the real one -- and doesn't know whether it's possible for a few faces to look in one direction at the same time without hurting its head or breaking its neck." (My crude translation.)

I would observe that "the world" -- and even "the Western world" -- is at the very least as polarized and conflicted as Latvia is. Not a little of the world mainly sees the third face -- the one facing America. As Matīss notes in an article available in English: "The debate leading up to Latvia’s participation in the Iraq war was virtually non-existent, and today the issue has entirely disappeared from the national discourse. We had no choice but to support the Americans our political leaders say, and consider the issue closed."

While Matīss' observations on the dearth of discourse are spot on, the fact is that Latvians really didn't have a choice (or -- at least those Latvians who are still aware of the persistent puissance of that fifth face -- the one looking back to Russia -- didn't and don't). "That Latvian politicians have a certain nostalgia for the simple, reassuring certainties of another time, for a world divided into 'us' and 'them' is a function of their historical development," she writes. Indeed -- here, the Second World War only ended in 1991. I think of the pain the poet Pēteris Ērmanis expressed as a refugee in Western Europe in 1945, the pealing bells and the cries of joy piercing him as he thought of his joyless homeland, where Stalin was retaking the territory he and Hitler had carved up.

Like the vast majority of Latvians, I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq. However -- also like the vast majority of Latvians -- I see NATO membership as absolutely vital to our country's security. It was the proverbial rock and hard place, the feeble discourse of the time soaked in hypocritical rhetoric. Some on the left compare the US-led invasion of Iraq to Soviet invasions past; I find such comparisons extremely offensive because they can only be made by people who are either ignorant of Soviet totalitarianism (often willfully so) or caught up in the wave of fashionable and usually unthinking anti-Americanism that has swept much of Western Europe.

In "Bitter lemons: Six questions to the critics of Ukraine's orange revolution," Timothy Garton Ash asked: "Would you rather have George Bush or Vladimir Putin?" His answer: "Preferably neither. Given the choice between Bush and Putin, I choose Marilyn Monroe. But it's incredible that so many west Europeans, including Chancellor Schröder of Germany, seem to prefer as their partner an ex-KGB officer currently reimposing authoritarian rule in Russia over a man who, for all his faults, has just been re-elected in a free and fair election in one of the world's great democracies."

The Orange Revolution is now unraveling, if not in shreds -- see this article on what is at stake -- and a resurgent Russia is attempting to recapture its sphere of influence. The novelist Zigmunds Skujiņš, confronted with the thin margin of support for EU accession prior to the Latvian referendum, asked the readers of Diena to realize that the question was truly one of a battle for space. That is how I saw it, too -- for a small, weak, and still somewhat dysfunctional nation-state (often listed first among enemies by our neighbors to the east), there really was no choice; any "third way" had all the glamour of the dictatorship down the road, in Belarus.

We don't trust Europe with our security -- because it does not deserve our trust. Schröder's intimacy with Putin led to nightmares about Yalta, and Chirac's response to Eastern Europe's support for the US (that we "missed a good opportunity to shut up") was fodder for those who had the gall to scrawl EU=USSR on placards (since then, not a few of the most vocal Europhobes and anti-NATO-ists crawled across les barricades mystérieuses and into bed with those who would have crushed democracy here in 1991). We do have reasons to trust the Yanks, even as we have a profound aversion to invasions (most Latvians did not even support the invasion of Afghanistan, according to polls).

The problem in Latvia, as Matīss suggests, is the lack of meaningful debate. She asks: "When a very intelligent commentator for Latvia’s leading national newspaper writes that all of those who dare to protest their country’s participation in the war Iraq [sic] are marching in lockstep with Saddam, what does this say about the depth of respect for the right to dissent within the Latvian populace?"

On the other hand, much of the less savory discourse throughout Europe savors of what Ash in his article on Ukraine calls the "knee-jerk leftist or Euro-Gaullist reaction - 'if the Americans are for it there must be something wrong with it'." He asks us to "consider the Ukrainian case on its own merits, not through an American or anti-American prism." As far as I can tell, those with the jerking knees can rarely look at anything without that prism. Not a few of those chattering on the furthest reaches of the left (or, really, the cyber-unleft) seem to prefer Osama to Dubya, not to mention their apparent preference for Putin or Saddam to... Jefferson? What often gets lost at both ends of the spectrum is... Iraq (and serious questions of international law, which some see as the illusionist trick of hypocrites [whilst another threadbare fringe, not rarely nourished by democracies, sees democracy itself -- and even a civil society -- as bogus]).


A word about what I'm doing here. I had reserved this space, but left it abandoned until another blog was technically unable to handle my persistent bouts of logorrhea. I had the idea of collecting past posts from the fora in which I most often participate (the Open Forum at Latvians Online and soc.culture.baltics on Usenet), since my longer screeds on history and politics sometimes have something of a Leitmotiv (at least to my meandering train of thought). Stripping them of the personal and rambunctious has proven to be difficult, however -- I can rarely suppress the urge to let the tarots of whatever thought a text may contain fall down and start from scratch. I'll probably be infected by the blogospherical and abandon my attempts to seduce consistency, that hobgoblin of little minds...

Still, I will try to revise some older material that still concerns me, and this began as an intro to that (on the directions Latvia faced historically -- the title is a translation of Rainis' Uguns un nakts). Some of you know me from other venues, and I want to thank you for visiting and invite you to keep doing so; I realize that much of what I write is probably pretty indigestible unless you have at least a passing familiarity with Latvia. I will try to remedy that, and invite questions or comments.

The photograph was taken in Vienna, through which I passed on the eve of EU expansion after four months in the Middle East.

04 July 2006

On "The History of Russians in Latvia" at Wikipedia

I agree with you (Pēters Vecrumba) with regard to dislodging German as the language of prestige and the language of administration having been the main goal for both the Russian government and most of the Young Latvians (note, though, that Russification also took place in the ethnographically Latvian part of Vitebsk guberniya for a longer period and more thoroughly, but quite differently [incl. denationalization in favor of religious identity, Belarusianization, etc.], where the Germans had been Polonized and there was a Polish and Russian aristocracy) -- even so, Russification in Courland and Livland was most dramatic in education, and in this it strongly favored the Russians (or, more accurately, the Russophones) and affected not only the Germans but the Latvians (for example, at Tartu [Dorpat, then renamed Yuryev], the number of Lutheran [i.e., German, Latvian, and Estonian] students fell threefold between 1892 and 1901, whilst Russian enrollment rose ten times, partly because the graduates of Orthdox seminaries were admitted -- destroying that nest of Baltic [i.e., German] separatism was one of Manasein's main recommendations [Arveds Švābe: Latvijas vēsture 1800-1914. Uppsala: Daugava, 1958, p.514]). Latvians largely supported Russian instruction in the schools, and many even supported Russification (e.g., Valdemārs: "Speaking Russian, Latvians are never lost to their nation [tauta] -- not even when some of them have begun to forget how to speak Latvian." [Baltijas Vēstnesis, 1884 /Ernests Blanks: Latvju tautas ceļš uz neatkarīgu valsti. Västerås: Ziemeļbāzma, 1970/]) Baltijas Vēstnesis was the influential newspaper led by Fricis Veinbergs, who remained a Russophile even unto 1917.
Your point that the Latvian nationalists "were not agitating for independence" is very important. Fricis Brīvzemnieks (Treuland), brought in as an inspector of public schools by Kapustin at Valdemārs' request ("it was politically advantageous for the [Tsar's] government that Russification would be introduced by the Latvian and Estonian nationalists themselves"), wrote a letter to Kaudzītes Reinis in 1886 in which he rejects an article Kaudzīte had written; the part about the friendship between Russians and Latvians, acording to Brīvzemnieks, is fine -- but the rest of the article needs to be amended to note that "defenders of the German Ritterschaft are trying to spread the belief among Latvians that the Tsar's government and the Russian people want nothing more than to deprive Latvians of their language and religion [...] Latvians have heretofore habitually expected good things only from the Russian government, and harmful things from their German overlords [...] they know that the government [...] has nothing to fear from the Latvian or Estonian languages because the Latvians and Estonians have never been independent nations and the seed of separatist thought finds no soil among the Latvians..." Brīvzemnieks goes on to say that the fears of Russification in Latvia are either "exaggerated or completely baseless." (Švābe, p. 462)
The fact is that fears of Russification were growing and they were rooted in reality and not in a plot by the Ritterschaft -- Valdemārs, entwined with the Slavophiles in Moscow, was increasingly irrelevant and no longer understood what was happening in the Baltics. The overall situation in education is also important to an understanding here (as it wasn't to Manasein): the Baltic provinces were the most advanced parts of the Russian Empire in education, whilst the Baltic Russians were comparatively ill-educated -- in Riga in 1881, for example, 47,8% of Russians over age 14 could not read or write (vs. 23,7% of the Latvians and 23,0% of the Germans). According to the official Russian statistics for 1886, there was one public school per 654 inhabitants in Southern Livland, vs. 1:2147 in Moscow guberniya and 1:3155 in Pskov guberniya. 2.37% of children in all 50 gubernii attended public school -- but this percentage varied considerably by guberniya: 9.25% in Finland, 9.87% in Southern Livland, 5,42% in Courland, 0,81% in Kovno, 3,44% in St. Petersburg, 2,01% in Kiev. In Vitebsk guberniya, and thus in Latgola -- 1,13%. 87,5% of the Old Believers in Latgola were illiterate, and 77,2% of the Belarusians (but even there, literacy was considerably higher in the ethnographically Latvian part of the guberniya and among Latvians). Latvian literacy also depended upon the rural and parochial schools, and to a very large degree on home schooling -- but home schooling in Latgola, which was particularly successful for females, was criminalized during Russification. ("Baltijas 'jaunā ēra' un rusifikācija"; Švābe, op. cit.) It might be noted, too, that the situation in the heavily Slavicized Ilūkste district in Semigallia was similar to that of Latgola, and Manasein in fact suggested that it be joined to Vitebsk guberniya.
Brīvzemnieks came to regret his position. As Russification intensified (and education declined), he was frequently attacked in the Russian press despite his pro-Russian stance, including by the newspaper you have mentioned -- Рижский Вестник, which demanded the imposition of Cyrillic in the Baltic provinces, as it had been imposed in Latgola, "to pour cold water on the fantasies of those who dream about a Latvian culture." This was their reaction to the success of the third Latvian Song Festival, and it is strikingly similar to the reaction of the Baltic Germans to the first forays of the Young Latvians (e.g., of Das Inland to Alunāns' Dziesmiņas) -- except that Latvian culture and in essence a Latvian nation were no longer a dream but had already come into existence. In 1888, Valdemārs wrote a lengthy defense of his career, explaining that he had worked harder than anybody else for the Russification of the Baltic provinces. This is where I will question the notion of "laissez-faire," Pēter -- to what extent was there laissez-faire, and when, and why? In the late 1880s, the Baltic German press came to defend Latvians against attacks in the Russian press -- Zeitung für Stadt und Land, for example, observed that the Latvians had a third path open to them, besides Germanization or Russification: retaining their identity. In defending Latvian against Cyrillic, Baltic Germans like Bielenstein found common ground with their Latvian political enemies -- to the horror of the Russians. What I am suggesting, then, is that it may have been laissez-faire between the 1850s and the 1880s, but only so long as the Latvians were not nationalists but merely anti-German Lettophiles and Slavophiles, and even apolitical Lettophilia was extremely suspect in an increasingly illiberal empire. "Not agitating for independence," to boil it down, really meant not only "not agitating for autonomy," which they also did not do -- it meant "not agitating for anything."
Valdemārs was a pragmatist and materialist, a "reālpolītisks minimālists" as Blanks defines him, who joined a cultural Lettophilia to an enthusiastic cosmopolitanism; the Russification he supported was education in the language, not coercive assimilation, and he always thought in practical terms (as when he suggested that Latvian veterans of the Russian army being settled in Voronezh guberniya be settled here instead and teach the Latvians Russian; Valdemārs was also quite clever in opposing Cyrillic). Living under police supervision in Moscow, however, he did not appreciate how far his nation had come. Many writers contrast Kronvaldu Atis' more spiritual thought with Valdemārs' -- again, this was a cultural but not a political nationalism, and Valdemārs himself notes that the Young Latvians had no political program at first; Kronvalds saw the Latvians and Russians as entering into a compact, however, with Russia having the duty to protect the Latvian language and culture in exchange for the Latvians' loyalty (thinking similar to the Germans'). Many Young Latvians naïvely believed that they could "drive out the German Devil with the Russian Beelzebub" (Švābe), but this was not be, obviously -- Mikhail Zinoviev, the governor, explained to the Riga Latvian Association in 1887 that "to us, Estonians and Latvians will only be a useful element when they become Russians."
This brings us to the 1890s and the advent of a Marxism that not only the right (e.g., Blanks) but also the left (e.g., Jansons-Brauns) labels dilettantist -- the New Current. Histories and contemporaries indicate, however, that it wasn't a matter of socialism replacing nationalism so much as the national movement reaching a point of crisis; a critic of the New Current, Alexander Weber (Vēbers -- an ethnic German who had in some sense assimilated, but later abandoned "Latvianness" in response to 1905) was among the many who saw it coming, observing the growing gulf between the growing Latvian bourgeoisie and the increasingly desperate masses. The Baltic Germans had lost their potency as the enemy. Much of the left saw nationality and its manifestations as the plaything of an exploitative élite that used and abused the ethnic as part of its business plan. Still, even "internationalism" didn't necessarily bring Russian and Latvian socialists together -- attacks on the war with Japan by the Latvian left, printed in 1904, noted that Asians were the Latvians' allies, victims of Russian imperialism like the Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians, who suffered the most under the Tsar. All of this against a background of very dramatic demographic changes, with Latvia second only to Britain in Europe's urbanization -- meanwhile, there was a rural exodus not only to the cities but also to Russia proper, whilst settlers replaced those who departed (e.g., ca. 68 000 foreigners, mostly Russians, arrived in Latgola between 1895 and 1902, whilst the Dvinsk military garrison alone numbered 12 700 [Kārlis Stalšāns: Krievu ekspansija un rusifikācija Baltijā laikmetu tecējumā. Chicago: Jāņa Šķirmanta Apgāds, 1966]).
Most of the above doesn't belong in this article, of course -- I'm afraid I must drift into some general observations on "the story of Latvia." My main point is that it is almost impossible to delineate the political currents in that period (those periods, actually -- ca. 1850-1890, 1890-1905, 1905-1914), because they overlap and twist (and are often very shallow, too, with only a few fish in them); it actually took a minor eddy on the extreme left, the erstwhile эсеры Valters and Rolavs, to "invent" autonomy, and in the view of some revive a nationalism that "had gone down into herring" (Rainis) -- Valters moved rightward in the 1920s, abandoning his liberal views with regard to the minorities as impracticable when the nation drifted toward what you are calling "ultra-nationalism." I'm trying to draw attention to some major questions in our history, some of which Jānis Peniķis identified -- for example, what is the meaning of 1905? I recommend this article by Jānis Krēsliņš seniors, published in Diena last January (in Latvian). As Krēsliņš underlines, a definitive history of 1905 has not yet been written. He points to two opposing views of the Revolution, the nationalist and the Marxist, and the fact is that most Latvian historiography holds one of these two prisms. I refer to Ernests Blanks, a rightist ideologue from whose work the concept of the three National Awakenings was derived, deliberately -- as Oļģerts Liepiņš notes in his preface to Blanks' book, our nation-state is in large part the result of 1905, simply because almost all of Latvia's founders "were involved in that mutiny, and many retained their destructive approach to the bourgeois, who were also human and also wanted to enjoy freedom." Liepiņš offers a metaphorical apple tree -- one branch growing democracy, the other turning bright red. This is gross oversimplification, of course, but it helps bring some of the dynamics into relief. These dynamics echo loudly through later Latvian history -- whilst Liepiņš claims that 1905 had a socialist basis and was only later given a nationalist tint, leftists like Fēlikss Cielēns see independence as the child of that revolution. The class differences and their politics are integral to what happened, of course -- why most of the Latvians did not ally with the Germans and vice-versa, though Grosvalds et al. ended up in the Rate; German and Russian lists were together at times, and few Latvians had the money to qualify as voters -- there was also a brief phase in which the Latvian bourgeoisie was allied with the Germans municipally.
I eagerly await the next section, Pēter! Inesis Feldmanis does not mince words when it comes to the Russian minority in the interbellum: according to him, most did not identify with Latvia. In 1930, only 18,9% of the Russians spoke Latvian. The local Russian language press expressed satisfaction at the growth of Russian power with the invasions of Finland and Poland, its true sympathies revealed after the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. (Daina Bleiere, Ilgvars Butulis, Inesis Feldmanis, Aivars Stranga, Antonijs Zunda: Latvijas vēsture: 20. gadsimts. Rīga: Jumava, 2005.) I've already said that I disbelieve in historians' objectivity -- I should add that I believe treating more POV rather than trying to eliminate POV is a better way to achieve the fabled NPOV, and IMO this is particularly true when trying to provide an overview, which necessarily involves generalizations. In the case of the Russian and Baltic German minorities, I do not see how the subject (and, indeed, Latvian history in the 20th C and the processes today) can be treated meaningfully without treating the concept of an "imperial minority." --Pēteris Cedriņš 20:00, 1 March 2006 (UTC)